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PAX East Preview - Staying True to Classic ARPGs

Terry OBrien Posted:
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We just got back from PAX East, and one of the games I took a good look at was a slick ARPG called Grim Dawn. Currently in production by Crate Entertainment, Grim Dawn is very reminiscent of old-school Diablo and Diablo two, with a dark color palette, and some very neat ideas. Now I must confess to having a soft spot for ARPGs, and any game in the same vein as the venerated Diablo I and II is going to strike very near my heart. Having said that, I will pass along to you my impressions of the game we saw at PAX.

Since my time playing Grim Dawn was to be short, and I didn't want to lose any actual PLAY time, I sorta skipped over the backstory of the game to get to the actual play, but I will quote you the backstory as provided by Crate:

“Set in the Victorian-era, apocalyptic world of Cairn, the player assumes the role of a “taken;” one previously possessed by an Aetherial, the wraithlike beings who have orchestrated the downfall of humanity. Gasping their last breath in a hangman’s noose, the Aetherial flees the player’s body and they’re cut down moments before death and given a chance for redemption. The experience of Aetherial possession has left the player with certain heightened powers and the ability to capture enemy “rift gates”.

The once proud Erulan Empire has been laid to waste in a war between the Aetherial invaders and minions of the Dying God, Ch’thon, who have risen to challenge them. Multiple factions all now vie for supremacy, each with their own dark intent.

Desperation has driven human survivors to extremes and players will have to exercise caution in dealing with unstable or deceptive characters. All is not what it seems and tough decisions will need to be made that can leave a significant impact on the world or their reputation. Strangers on the road, families in desperation and even entire villages may live or perish based on the player’s actions.”

Sounds pretty good to me, now let me dig into the meat of the game itself.

The Arcanist showcasing one powerful ability.

Grim Dawn starts you out as one of five classes: Soldier, Demolitionist, Occultist, Nightblade or Arcanist, each with their own assortment of skills and abilities to develop your character as you level up. In a very interesting twist, about level ten you can cross train your character with another class, and from that point you can mix and match abilities from both classes, to really allow you to tailor you character to your own personal needs. This sounds like a very promising system with tons of flexibility, but the guys over at Crave will have to do a good job testing all the combinations and permutations, in order to weed out any possible imbalances and keep the challenge level of the game fair and steady. That is what Beta's are for anyway, and Grim Dawn is already available on Steam Early Access in an extremely playable form, and has 93% positive rating thus far.

As in most ARPGs, once you have chosen your class, it's time to go adventuring and loot gathering. Grim Dawn has the usual assortment of items and affixes, along with a robust collection of rarities and set pieces. There is also an interesting crafting system in place that includes components that combine with weapons to grant characters a new active skill while they are equipped. There are also partial components that, when you have gathered enough of them, combine to form full components.

The ultimate level of items in the game are called relics, and you will begin seeing them around level twenty-two. Relics come in three power levels: Empowered, Transcendent, and Mythical. Nearly all Relics are created by the Blacksmith, one of the NPCs in the game, and only after you provide him with the blueprints and any other components needed.

Gameplay is your standard click-heavy mouse-driven exploration and combat, and it moves very smoothly and easily at this stage, with no discernable lag during my hands-on time. The story is currently only partially complete, as the game is still in early access, but recently Crate has released the second Chapter of Act Three, so, as you can see they are moving quite rapidly towards release.

Grim Dawn also includes quite a few more neat twists, including a TON of hidden locations, several factions whose services you can take advantage of, IF you can win their trust, town upgrades and the rescue of survivors, who will then provide further services to the player, and challenging Challenge and Rogue-like dungeons that will test the mettle of even the most veteran of heroes.

A Soldier battling in the Wightmire

I was also told a little about a new system they are integrating into the game in the future, called Devotions. Devotions are essentially another level of character development that will give the character access to a vast array of constellations that will in turn grant the player new augmentations and celestial powers. Devotions are unlocked by finding ruined or corrupted shrines scattered throughout the game world, and returning them to their former glory. Ruined Shrines must be restored by finding rare materials in the world, and Corrupted Shrines can be purified by defeating the corrupting power hidden within the Shrine.

So if you are a fan of ARPGs, and you are looking for one that stays true to the original style of Diablo and Diablo II, look no further than Crate's Grim Dawn. Check out the official website for a much deeper look into the game’s systems and the plans for the future.


Terry OBrien

Terry OBrien / Terry is a Features Writer at MMORPG.com, and resident Warhammer guru. He is old, he remembers playing Telengard on a Commodore 64 in the early eighties. He wants all you kids and your new-fangled video games off his lawn!